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In Remembrance of 
Jamshid Nusserwanjee Mehta
The Maker of Modern Karachi

Prominent Zarathushtis

Speeches and Writings of Zoroastrian Religion, Culture and Civilization; Karachi, 1995

Fereidon K. Dadachanji

Mayor Twelve Times
A Teetotaler


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Jamshid Mehta Group.jpg (17618 bytes)
Jamshid Mehta with poet Rabindranath Tagore, C. F. Andrews and others

In India’s pre-partition days, for almost two decades, there was perhaps not a single day when Jamshid Nussenwanjee's name or photo did not appear in the newspapers. The reason is that he played a leading role in every movement in Karachi whether political, economic, social or religious.

He was in fact the initiator of quite a few movements, and every movement that he started was a success in the ultimate analysis.

Jamshid Mehta 2.jpg (3687 bytes)His very presence purified the air around him, and the people of Karachi somehow got an impression that if Jamshid's name was associated with them or their institutions, God was bound to shower His blessings upon them. He was therefore the "Most Wanted Man", the most sought after person and the most welcome guest in any function or any home in Karachi.

Those who came in contact with him instantly felt the strength of his character. He was not an ordinary soul.

Mayor Twelve Times

In these days when time- serving and selfishness play such an important part in our public life, it would be worthwhile studying the life of this great man who was considered to be one of the noblest sons of Sind. Studying his life is always a source of inspiration.

Jamshid Mehta 4.jpg (2977 bytes)Jamshid, who was known as the "Maker of Modern Karachi", had the Unique distinction of being elected the Mayor of Karachi for 12 consecutive years. The broad roads, beautiful parks, schools, hospitals, maternity homes, good sanitation, homes for the poor and other civic amenities which the citizens of Karachi enjoyed in those days were the result of the untiring efforts and dedicated Service of this great man. When the municipal history of Karachi is written, one of its most outstanding features will be the remarkable efficiency with which Jamshid faced every situation. It was he more than any other person who gave Karachi its character as the cleanest and best administered city in the Indo-Pakistan Sub-continent.

In the field of politics, too, Jamshid had a unique record. According to the rules of modern politics, a candidate has to stand for election, go from person to person and beg for votes, whereas in Jamshid's case people used to go to him and beg of him to stand for election. In present-day politics, many candidates give all sorts of promises and use all sorts of methods, fair or foul, to get elected, whereas Jamshid gave no promises and no undertakings. On the contrary, he would extract a promise from his helpers that they would remain absolutely fair under all circumstances.

In 1937, friends, admirers and ordinary Citizens went to Jamshid in a deputation and begged of him to become a candidate. Jamshid agreed, but on condition that there should be no publicity and no canvassing for votes and that an absolutely honest statement of accounts be maintained. When only a few days were left for the election, Jamshid started his so-called "Election Campaign" in the Dadu district whose people had urged him to contest the election. Very few people in this district had seen Jamshid before, but they had heard so much about this saintly man that they flocked in thousands at various places just to have a glimpse (darshan) of him. No one was asked to give votes and no one made any mention of the election. Poor and simple people of all communities walked miles and miles to have a glimpse of Jamshid, their benefactor. Although four candidates were opposing Jamshid in that election, Jamshid received more votes than all of them put together.

A Teetotaler

But within a couple of years, when Jamshid found that intrigues were going on and no solid work for the welfare of the people was being done in the Assembly, he immediately tendered his resignation.

Jamshid Mehta 3.jpg (3362 bytes)Jamshid was universally acknowledged as a man of principle. He felt that wine and spirits were a cause of human misery and degradation. He not only became a teetotaler himself, but preached prohibition and refused to take his share of profits from the sale of wine in his father's business. By this attitude of Jamshid, his father's firm earned the displeasure of the foreign wine-manufacturing firms. Great pressure was brought upon his father to induce his son to desist from taking

part in this movement, and the former was told that if his son did not desist the firms' most lucrative agency would be taken away. It must be said to the credit of his father that he decided to forgo a substantial income rather than put any pressure on his son to work against the dictates of his conscience.

It is said that Jamshid's reputation for honesty and straight dealings was so high that the Income Tax Officer never put a single query about his Annual Tax Return. The Form which bore the signature of "Jamshid Nussenvanjee" was enough.

Years ago, there was a big run on the Central Bank of India. A rumor was spread that the Bank was in financial difficulty and might go bankrupt, and there was therefore a long queue of hundreds of depositors wanting to withdraw their funds. When Jamshid received the news, he dashed to the Bank, and as soon as people saw his familiar figure entering the bank, hopes revived, and people got a sort of silent reassurance that something good was bound to happen.

Within a few minutes Jamshid came out, took a chair, stood over it and in pin-drop silence made, a brief announcement that there was nothing wrong with the Bank, their money was safe, and if anybody wanted, he, Jamshid Nussenvanjee, was prepared to give a guarantee for his money's safety. Within a few minutes, the huge crowd melted away. They knew that his word was his bond.


Jamshid Mehta 5.jpg (3508 bytes)No account of Jamshid's life would be complete without a mention of his contribution to the field of social service, charity and self-sacrifice. Although he was a millionaire, he lived like a fakir (modest man), accepting only the barest necessities of life for himself, while giving away all his wealth to the needy, the widows and the orphans without distinction of caste, color or creed. All his charities were silent and private. It was only after his death that the world came to know through his private secretary that he had given away 50 lakhs of rupees (US$1.6 Million at that time) without letting anyone know about it.

The sick and suffering persons, whether in hospitals or homes, used to get solace and comfort from the visits of Jamshid. His face used to radiate joy and happiness to those who came in contact with him. He was a Maha-Atma, and to be near him and be with him was like a tonic. He was one of those God's good men who combined idealism with efficiency and dreams with reality.

Sir Henry Holland was right when he said, "Jamshid was one of the finest men I have ever met. A terrific worker, a wonderful organizer, a great giver and a most humble man. He was conscientious and deeply religious, and as straight as a die. If only we had more men of his character today, Sind would be a different place".